SUSSEX rugby came out on top when the Sussex and Surrey One leagues leaders met on Saturday.
Uckfield progressed to the fifth round of the National Junior Vase after taking apart Old Freemans.
Coach Kevin Martin had a full strength squad from which to pick and, with Joel Forward, Stuart Pearham, Matt Evans and Scott Brand all available, so selection was always going to provide a headache.
In perfect rugby conditions, the Acorns lost the toss and were made to play into the sun, with the slight breeze at their backs. They got off to the best possible start.
From the kick off, the home No.8 was bundled into touch. The resulting line-out saw Uckfield’s No.8, Dan McCabe, break a tackle before off-loading to the supporting Joel Forward. He ran in un-opposed under the posts. Pearham made no mistake with the conversion.
That seven-point lead was then extended to 13 after Pearham slotted difficult penalties on 10 and 12 minutes. With OF clearly shocked by Uckfield’s fast pace, they decided to try and break through the Uckfield midfield through their powerful inside centre. However, although making ground, he was felled repeatedly by Uckfield before the hosts gained any real momentum from his bursts.
On 15 minutes the Acorns extended their lead. A break out wide by Gregg Chappell saw him stopped just short of the try line. Quick recycled ball by the forwards sucked in the scrambling OF defence before an inch-perfect cross-field kick by Pearham landed in Lee Evans’ stride. He side-stepped the covering winger to score just to the left of the uprights. Pearham’s conversion made the score 20-0.
OF then had their best spell of the game, camped in Uckfield’s 22 for 10 minutes. To the surprise of the home support, they kept opting to take tap penalties instead of going for the easy three points. This tactic eventually cost them as the Acorns defence held strong, and OF eventually gave away a penalty.
Just before half time OF registered the first of their two tries. A kick to nothing wasn’t fielded by Uckfield, and although Andrew Elms put his body on the line to dive on the ball, it squirmed out from beneath him into the path of an Old Freemans winger. He grubber kicked the ball along the ground to dive on the ball under the post. The conversion was successful, making the score 20-7 at the break.
OF were first on the scoreboard after half time via a penalty. With scores at 20-10 an more than half an hour of the game left, it looked to be setting up for an exciting finish.
Uckfield, however, had other ideas. A chip through from Rob Raymond saw the ball bounce off of the corner flag, giving the chasing Gregg Chappell the easiest of his 30-plus tries all year. The next score was a brilliant training ground move between scrum half Kieron Martin and lock Luke Austin, an exact replica of the try against Pulborough earlier this season.
OF did score another try of their own after a rare mis-kick from scrum half Martin spooned across the pitch giving them a two-man overlap; a slip from Martin Chappell then proved costly and the winger scored in the corner to make it 34-17.
Coach Kevin Martin then put on some fresh legs: Scott Brand came on for the tireless Terry Funnell in the second row and Colin Bradley replaced Ed Sinclair at Hooker.
This injected Uckfield with some fresh legs and they ran in six more tries in the last 20 minutes.
Austin and Lee Evans completed their doubles, Forward rounded off his hat-trick, Matt Evans went over under the posts – but the pick of the bunch was big Jack Whitmarsh’s five-metre flop which shook the ground of the surrounding area.
Uckfield return to league action tomorrow when they host relegation battlers St Francis. The next round of the National Junior Vase is on April 2 when they travel to Surrey 2 basement side Old Caterhamians.
UCKFIELD: Raymond, Chappell G, Chappell M (Ward), Forward, Evans L, Pearham, Martin; Whitmarsh, Sinclair (Bradley), Parke-Gailey, Funnell (Brand), Austin, Caket, Elms (Evans M), McCabe.
n A DEPLETED Uckfield 3rd XV stayed top of the Sussex 3 table after battling to a 26-26 draw at Rye 2nd XV.